PC vendors deliver on new PII

Major PC manufacturers are supporting Intel Corp.'s new Pentium II processor with high-end servers and workstations that target a more lucrative market that is dominated by Unix workstations from Sun Microsystems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Intel formally announced the new 32-bit Xeon processor last week, saying it will enable systems based on Intel's architecture to "extend further into the enterprise, where Intel has not been before," said John Minor, vice president and general manager of Intel's enterprise server group, at the Intel launch event in Santa Clara, Calif.

PC manufacturers raced to announce the new servers and workstations that will be powered by the new 400 MHz processor. Xeon offers either 512K or 1M of Level 2 cache, a 100 MHz system bus, up to 64G of memory and the ability to scale up to eight processors. A 450 MHz Xeon, which will come with up to 2M of Level 2 cache, will be released by year's end.

Beefing up these components makes it possible to build higher-end systems than were possible before. Until now, Pentium II servers could only expand to two processors. Pentium Pro-powered servers can scale up to six processors, but they run slower at a maximum speed of 200 MHz, with only a 66 MHz input/out system bus.

Among the potential target customers are federal organizations that need departmental and application servers to act as World Wide Web hosts and Microsoft Corp. Windows NT servers, vendors said. In many cases, the vendors are looking to displace systems based on reduced instruction-set computing (RISC) processors.

"The Xeon really starts to give us the performance and scalability we need to move into what in the last couple of years has been a RISC and Unix server area," said Bill Dwyer, chief technologist for HP's government business unit. "There's a lot of database applications that could reside on these and serve a lot of people."

Defense Department agencies, many of which are beginning migrations to Windows NT, will find that the new servers will be a first step toward meeting the platform's needs, Dwyer said.

HP said the new Xeon will be incorporated into its NetServer L Series initially through an upgrade kit available in the third quarter. HP said the NetServer

L Series also has been designed to work with the 64-bit Merced processor, which Intel has delayed until the middle of 2000.

One of the strongest new Xeon product pushes has been mounted by Dell Computer Corp., a company better known for its direct sales of desktop and laptop PCs than high-end boxes.

But Dell servers have gained market share recently, shipping 14 percent of all PC servers priced at less than $25,000, according to International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass.

Dell already is taking orders for its new PowerEdge 6300 and will begin to ship the new server in seven to 10 days, following tests to make sure servers with four or more processors run without problems, said Mike Lambert, senior vice president of Dell's enterprise systems group.

Intel officials acknowledged before the launch of the Xeon that an "erratum" can cause systems using four or more processors to malfunction. Dell engineers worked with Intel to find a fix that Dell is now testing, according to Lambert.

"We have been running the fix a week now and have been unable to cause the problem again," he said.

"The 6300 is the most powerful high-end server we've ever offered," said Robert McFarland, vice president and general manager of Dell's Federal Sales and Marketing Division. "It has twice the performance of our 6100," the Pentium Pro product it will replace.

"We've driven the price of technology down through the direct model, and what we brought to the desktop we are going to bring to the server market," said McFarland.

As part of its strategy, Dell plans to highlight its partnership with Wang Global for worldwide support and with Softway Systems Inc., which develops software that makes it possible to run Unix applications under Windows NT, McFarland said. Dell also has changed the size and shape of the server so that up to six fit into a standard 19.5-inch rack.

Dell has released a pre-estimated General Services Administration price of $8,539 for a single 400 MHz Pentium II configuration. A Power-Edge with four processors will cost $24,296 on GSA, the company said.

IBM Corp., Compaq Computer Corp., Gateway Inc., Unisys Corp. and NEC Computer Systems Division are among the other PC manufacturers that announced new Xeon-powered servers last week. Most also plan to refresh their workstation lines.

IBM's new Netfinity 7000 M10, which is scheduled to ship in September, includes four Xeon processors and up to 8G of extended data output dynamic RAM. IBM said it will offer current users of Netfinity 5500 servers an upgrade kit for converting to a Xeon-powered machine.

Compaq said it plans to begin incorporating the Xeon in its ProLiant 7000 and ProLiant 6000 servers, which have been used by government agencies to support mail applications such as Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Development Corp.'s Notes, said Tom Simmons, Compaq's manager of federal sales to DOD.

"The performance boost of the Xeon will enhance that capability," Simmons said. "We are also seeing some of the first wholesale migrations from RISC servers for applications down to the Windows NT and Intel platforms."

The ProLiant 7000 offers features that RISC and Unix server customers are accustomed to, such as seven-day, 24-hour reliability, redundancy and fault tolerance, therefore making them popular as a substitute for those higher-end machines, Simmons said.

Compaq also has announced the Professional Workstation SP700, the first product in Compaq's new scalable performance line of workstations. The new servers and workstations will ship as soon as volume quantities of the Xeon are available, Compaq officials said. Prices have not been determined.

Gateway, North Sioux City, S.D., will ship the ALR 9200, scalable to four Xeon processors, and the ALR 9400, which holds up to six processors, late in the third quarter. It has not announced pricing. Gateway also will use Xeon processors in its forthcoming E-5250 workstation for 3-D computer-aided design programs, geographic information systems and other demanding applications.

"What we're doing with those systems is taking six-way processing and all it can bring and [then] driving it down," said Ray Hebert, senior manager of Gateway ALR servers. "We're bringing performance into a space it hasn't been before."

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